"Sespian!" Raumesys Savarsin, the younger of the two men and the twenty-seventh emperor of Turgonia, curled his fingers into a fist and glared at the boy. "What are you doing?"

Eyes downcast, Sespian whispered, "Drawing, Father."

Unnoticed by anyone, Sicarius clenched his jaw as he watched from the shadows.

"Drawing." Raumesys turned to the willowy, gray-haired man next to him, Commander of the Armies Hollowcrest. "My son, the future emperor and leader of our armies, is drawing on the floor of the solarium." He turned back to the boy. "Come here!"

For a moment, Sespian hesitated, eyes darting, as if he might flee into the shadows, but Raumesys growled, and the boy plodded forward. Chin drooped to his chest, he halted before the men. The emperor bent and grabbed his arm, knuckles whitening. The boy flinched, but he did not cry out when the charcoal stick was ripped from his grasp. Raumesys snapped it in half, the crack echoing through the silent room like a bone breaking.

"Father!" Anguish flashed across the boy's face as the splintered halves clacked to the floor and rolled across the marble. "That was my only—"

"And you'll get no more." The emperor dropped to one knee and grabbed Sespian by the front of his shirt. "You're five years old now. It's time you stopped playing and started learning how to lead a nation. No more foolish scribbling on the floor, do you understand?"

"Mother always lets me..."

"Your mother's too soft with you. You will rule a nation of warriors one day. You must be strong."

Knowing the shadows hid him, Sicarius let his fingers curl into fists. Not for the first time, he was tempted to intervene, to protect the boy from such abuse, but he did not move. Speaking against the emperor—thinking against the emperor—was not permitted. He had learned that lesson well as a boy.

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